Starbucks rumours get Italians in a froth

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Starbucks is rumoured to be on its way to Italy. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America/AFP
09:13 CEST+02:00
Rumours that Starbucks could soon be serving up Frappuccinos in Italy have been met with aghast by coffee specialists and café owners alike.

The American coffee chain is planning to open a branch in Milan, according to a report in Corriere.

The deal, reported to have been ushered in with the help of ex-footballer and entrepreneur Antonio Percassi, could be signed before Christmas, with the store opening next year, the newspaper said.

Percassi declined to comment on “market rumours” when contacted by The Local, while Starbucks said it “could not comment on rumour or speculation”.

Still, the speculation was enough to stir up the emotions of those working within Italy’s food and drink sector.

“The shame of it!” raged 62-year-old restaurant owner Michele Grimaldi.

“It's disgusting. I've worked here all my life and some customers I've known just as long. Big chains like that destroy the individuality of places until you can no longer recognize them.”

But upon a little reflection, Grimaldi consoled himself, saying, “It won't work anyway, Italians are too protective."

Indeed, Starbucks would need to come up with an air-tight strategy to win over the Italian market.

The country’s rich café culture and love of coffee is well known – and a lot easier on the pocket than the flavoured lattes and Frappuccinos served up in personalized cups at Starbucks.

Luigi Ordello, the president of the Italy-based Institute of International Coffee Tasters, which works to promote the appreciation of Italian coffee around the world, said this was the fifth time he’d heard a rumour about Starbucks coming to Italy.

“And it wouldn't threaten Italian coffee if it does arrive, as Starbucks today represents an international standard of coffee and not an Italian one,” he told The Local, adding, “as an expert coffee taster, I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t be successful.”

But why not?

“An Italian espresso is drunk in a minute – but the aroma stays with you for an hour afterwards,” he explained.

“Whereas customers at Starbucks tend to buy a large coffee which they carry around, sipping for an hour when they want to taste some coffee.”

That said, Percassi seems like the kind of person who could make it happen, having paved the way for the expansion of Zara, the Spanish clothing store, and the American lingerie chain, Victoria’s Secret, into Italy.

And if it wasn't for Italy, Starbucks might not have existed: it was during a trip to Milan in 1983 that chairman Howard Shultz became entranced by Italian coffee, and so the idea for his empire was born.

The aim behind the possible venture is to find locations in Milan’s city centre, where bankers, lawyer and entrepreneurs can meet to discuss business over coffee, while benefiting from Wifi, Corriere said.

Sergio Cioffi, a café owner ,dismissed the idea as "ridiculous" before adding that he's "not worried” about the potential threat of a Starbucks invasion.

“They would be trying to sell us our own product. Italians will never pay three times the price for something that we can do better for a fraction of the cost,” he told The Local.

But what do coffee lovers think?

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Federica Valenti, a 23-year-old student, said: "I don't even like the taste of Starbucks. It's not the principle I mind, if it tasted good maybe I'd buy it, but I just think Italian coffee is better."

Alice Pasaro said she didn’t care if the coffee tasted good or not, “I will never choose an American coffee over an Italian one."

Still, the concept could work well in a country that attracts lots of visitors, Bill Paige, a consultant at Francorp, a global franchise consultancy firm, told The Local.

“Most probably if Starbucks is opening there then they have done the research, unless they just want to toot their horn about being in Italy," he said. 

"In Italy there's some of the finest coffee there is – but there are also lots of tourists, and it would be a comfort to them.

"If Starbucks comes some are going to love it and some are going to hate it.” 

By Ellie Bennett and Patrick Browne

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